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The Story of a Dress Made in India

Posted by admin On December - 1 - 2009  Print  Email  

It was Indian, chic, simple and regal. It has developed a life of its own. And a story to go with it. And it all started with Indian immigrant designer, Naeem Khan.

He had never met the First Lady and never measured her for the dress. His only guide was the measurements he was given. Out of that came a dress that will forever remain a part of the White House’s history.

Admitting that the dress might have been fine tuned a bit, Khan said, “we are very good. Once I get the measurements, I can make it happen.”

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama welcome India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur to the State Dinner at the North Portico of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2009. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama welcome India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur to the State Dinner at the North Portico of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2009. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

APTOPIX Obama US India

First Lady Michelle Obama before welcoming India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur to the State Dinner at the North Portico of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2009. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The strapless gold silk chiffon dress took four weeks to make. It was born in America and grew up in Mumbai, India, Khan’s birth country. He cut and sewed the gown in his studio in New York and then took it to India for the embroidery and sequins to be worked on, in his father’s workshop.

During that time Khan journeyed back and forth from New York to India to supervise its growth. His family worked painstakingly with needle and thread to hand stitch each sterling silver plated sequin and each bead into the intricate floral pattern on the soft fabric. In the end, 40 pairs of hands worked on the dress that has sparked global interest.

Every fashion designer’s desire is to create a masterpiece. Khan’s turn came when he was approached three weeks before the first Obama White House state dinner to send sketches of designs of gowns for Michelle Obama. In his excitement he made four versions of the gown and waited with crossed fingers and a spot of nervousness for the First Lady to make her pick. He was not the only designer that had submitted creations for the First Lady to choose from.

She choose the strapless custom made sequined dress and complemented it with a matching wrap, dangling earrings  and gold bangles. A fitting choice to host India’s prime minister Manmohan Singh and his wife, Gursharan Kaur. Khan, 50, was elated. “It’s a moment like I’ve never felt before in my life,” he said.

Fashion designer Naeem Khan (photo Naeem's facebook)

Fashion designer Naeem Khan (photo Naeem's facebook)

The dinner was held on Tuesday November 23, at the White House, Washington. The Obamas hosted the Indian prime minister in a feast of vegetarian meals made with vegetables grown in the White House garden.

Khan had missed an opportunity to design the First Lady’s dress for the inauguration.  Perhaps that was not to be. However, his name has been on the First Lady’s stylist Ikram Goldman’s list since then.

Some say opportunity never knocks twice, but that’s not so in his case. Khan had a second shot at designing for the First Lady when the first dinner arose. They asked for sketches and he delivered. They liked what they saw and he got the nod. “Do as many and whatever you want,” he was told.

Khan used fabric that is completely handmade. He choose chiffon with sterling silver paillettes hand stitched in various sizes, similar to what the Maharajahs and members of royal families in India used to wear.  Just like he did with the dresses in the movie Dreamgirls, he made this one with titanium. “When you wear it, it molds to your body.”

As to how the dress fitted so perfect, he praised his technicians. While Ikram may have fine tuned the dress a bit, he said, “we hit it really, really close.” He said he did not want to have a long train dragging behind her like a long tail. “I designed the dress so it’s clean at the bottom but has enough flair so there’s a lot of movement.”

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Hi. My name is Susan Gosine-Herrera. I live in Queens, New York. This news blog is my way of highlighting all the interesting things, people and events I come across in this part of New York. If you have an interesting immigrant story or know of one or of an interesting immigrant, I will be happy to feature that story in these pages. Just send an email and I will be in touch. Meanwhile, live like a tourist, enjoy all you can, before you move on.

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